Book Review: Prophecy and Hermeneutic by Christopher R. Seitz
Prophecy and Hermeneutics: Toward a New Introduction to the Prophets by Christopher R. Seitz
Typically when one sees the word ‘introduction’ in the title of a book they expect to have a quick one time read with an overly generalized presentation of a field of study. Christopher Seitz , in Prophecy and Hermeneutics: Toward a New Introduction to the Prophets, offers the reader a thoroughly researched and digestible book that will be referenced often. Seitz shows himself to be well studied in multiple OT fields by his interaction with various authors and methodologies, but he maintains his focus of bringing complex issues to those being newly initiated to Prophetic studies.
The book presents an engaging history of the 18th and 19th century approaches to the prophets, and, as most would guess, Gerhard von Rad is then focused upon as a major turning point in OT studies and methodologies. Von Rad’s tradition-historical approach to Scripture is explored in detail, which in many ways still holds sway over most OT studies. This is a great help to beginning students of the field. Despite acknowledging his own indebtedness to von Rad, Seitz critiques the tradition-historical approach as being reconstructed history that is at odds with the canonical form and unable to interpret the theology of the Prophetic books upon their own presentation. Seitz concludes that the most damaging effect of the tradition-historical method is giving the “false impression of what accounts for history” and that this method is ultimately incapable of seeing or interpreting the “patterns of affiliation” of the Minor Prophets as “a coordinated single witness” (114).
As a response to this problem Seitz offers a strong argument for an entirely different hermeneutic which sees the final form, or canonical form, of the prophets as the true “communication of a crucial dimension of prophetic history” (49). Seitz contends that the 12 Minor Prophets display a “twelvefold internal character that is clearly marked” and is therefore “an essential feature of them/it” (91). While Seitz does not deny or wish to downplay the individual theological contribution of each book, he believes that only when they are read in relation to each other can they properly be appreciated for what they are and what they mean.
Theological interpretation and methods are radically changed by Seitz’s contention. In a tradition-historical reading, context means, “relationship to traditions” and “individual prophet in relationship to events of his day” (178), but for Seitz the context of a particular book or passage is a “context within the literary shape of the final form of the canon” (179). Seitz calls this new method figural interpretation, which seeks to appreciate the literary, historical, temporal, and various other dimensions, while firmly founded upon “God’s work with Israel, with Jesus Christ, and with the Church” (9) as providentially in control of the canonical form of the Prophets as a whole. Seitz argues that this figural approach will better understand the authorial intention and reveal a “better account of the actual historical character of prophecy in Israel” (99).
This book truly belongs in every student's tool box.